Cottage Q&A: Helping injured wildlife

A raccoon surrounded by leafy plants By Marek R. Swadzba/Shutterstock

Last week, I saw an injured raccoon. He or she was walking gingerly on three legs and appeared to be in a lot of pain. We called our township and various organizations, and no one was prepared to help. Please advise whom to contact in the future.—An Animal Lover 

Your best first step is to call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. (While any local wildlife centre may also be able to give you advice, some of these organizations focus more on education, and don’t have programs in place to rehabilitate wildlife. Unfortunately, neither do many municipalities or even government ministries.) The rehabilitator will probably ask you some questions to try to figure out how serious the injury is and if the animal needs help.

“It can be pretty darn hard to tell if an animal’s actually in pain,” says Nathalie Karvonen, the executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, one of the few wildlife centres with a rescue program. Sometimes an animal that appears to be sore or is walking gingerly, or even one that’s on three legs, only has a minor problem or an old, healed injury. Maybe it’s just feeling a little rough: “When I have a bad migraine, I walk gingerly,” says Karvonen. So, the more detail you can give the experts, the better. “We love digital photos or short video clips. Those can tell us a lot.”

Help winter wildlife with tips from Hope for Wildlife

Be prepared for the rehabilitator to ask you to catch the critter—with coaching—and transport it to the centre, says Kai Williams, the executive director of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. Proceed with caution: sometimes trapping an animal—especially if it’s big or thrashing around in a panic—is too dangerous. And sometimes it’s not even possible. Injured geese, for example, are very tricky to contain. “They don’t call it ‘wild goose chase’ for nothing,” says Williams. (If the hurt animal is stuck on a highway, call the cops.) “Always keep yourself safe,” she says.

Golden retriever helps rescue injured bald eagle near Lake Superior

So why can’t someone come in person to help? In many cases, these organizations—even if they’re large or in urban areas—don’t have the staff or resources to send anyone out to your cottage. “Rehabilitators are operating almost entirely on donations,” says Karvonen. “It’s pretty tough going for them.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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